SHORT STORY

The Humvee Did It
By Margaret DiCanio


     Most residents in Riverton, West Virginia believe the story began with the Humvee parked in the Blossom driveway.  The story actually began when Judge Newton Blossom gave his wife's 1932 fire truck, Bertha, to a junk dealer for scrap.  The junk dealer sold the antique pumper to the Emergency Vehicle Transportation Museum in Deep Freeze, North Dakota for $85,000.

     When Elena Blossom got off the phone with the museum in a futile attempt to buy back Bertha, she said, "Nelson, how could you do that to me?  You know how much she meant to me."

     "A judge has a duty to uphold the dignity of his office, my dear, and to serve as a role model for the community.  A fire engine on my  property made me look ridiculous.  Let's hear no more about it."

     Elena hadn't minded that Nelson married her for her money. Even as sole heir of the Blossom fortune, Elena knew someone as ugly as she couldn't expect much in the way of a mate.  Her father often wondered aloud why she hadn't been born handsome like his family, the Montgomerys.  Her mother always added that Elena wasn't graceful like her family, the Delworths.

     Elena hadn't minded Nelson's affairs. Except for the time he and his administrative assistant, Annabel, decided to have a quickie in a stuck elevator at the courthouse and the door opened on the first floor to a waiting crowd.  The flurry of talk about removal went nowhere-given Nelson's lifetime appointment to the bench.

     Elena did mind the loss of Bertha.  Bertha didn't deserve to be treated as scrap metal.  She had a proud heritage of saving lives.

     When Elena spent $100,000 to buy Barbara, a 1949 pumper, she wondered whether she should increase her husband's yearly allowance to $150,000.  After all he was human and Barbara was a fire truck.  On the other hand, she said to her new friend, "You give me more pleasure and you're in mint condition."

     Nelson returned from still another judicial conference, accompanied by his administrative assistant, to find Elena driving Barbara in the Founders' Day Parade.  Clinging to Barbara's sides were twelve members of Brownie Troop 102.

     Barbara mysteriously disappeared from the Blossom driveway.  The front-page headline in the Riverton Gazette read "Mystery Burglar Steals Antique Pumper."

     Barbara surfaced in Beats Walking Transportation Museum in New Mexico.  The museum paid $250,000 to the seller.  The judge bought himself a new Lamborghini with money he saved from skipping lunch.

     For several months after Barbara disappeared, the Blossom's home life went on serenely.  Elena continued her volunteer work as leader of Brownie Troop 102 and as coordinator of the Blossom Elementary School carpool.  On weekends, she cooked at the battered women's shelter.

     Nelson's capricious decisions made experienced attorneys avoid his courtroom whenever possible.  He generally spent several afternoons each week trying to hit golf balls across the pond at the bottom of the front lawn.

     The housekeeper said to the gardener, "There must be a two-foot layer of golf balls at the bottom of the pond."

     "Must be three feet," said the gardener.

     Convinced he would win the "Judge of the Year Award" at the annual Silt County judicial conference, Nelson was busy writing his acceptance speech when the end of his tranquil life came in the form of the 10 o'clock news.

     Elena was enchanted by a segment devoted to the HMMVW, the High Mobility, Multi-Purpose, Wheeled Vehicle, better known as the Humvee.  The reporter told his viewers, "The Humvee's versatility is the stuff of legends.  In Operation Desert Storm, among its many duties, it served as a command-and-control vehicle, an ambulance, and a mount for machine guns and grenade launchers.  Able to go over exploding land mines without danger to the passengers, the Humvee can climb 60-degree slopes.  Best of all, its vertical exhaust pipe and water-tight motor compartment permit it to travel through water up to five feet.  Marine Humvees serve for 14 years before being retired.  I'd say they deserve a pension."

     Elena called her broker in the morning, "I want the oldest Humvee you can find, one with a history."  A week went by with no word from the broker.  Impatient, Elena called him.
 
     "They are scarce," he said.  "I've located one for sale, but the price is too high.  You can get a new civilian version for less."

     "I don't want a new civilian version."  The broker sighed.  He was fond of Elena, but her priorities sometimes baffled him.

     "The retired Marine who owns it insists on meeting any prospective buyer.  He'll only sell to someone who will give his Humvee a good home."

     Elena chartered a plane the next morning to Wagon Stop, Alabama.

     Colonel Daniel Michael Broome approved of Elena's reverence toward his beloved Tillie.  "She got me through Desert Storm.  We've been through a lot together.  I wouldn't sell her, but I need the money to keep a forest out of the hands of developers."

     Elena was quiet for several seconds, while she examined the colonel's face.  "Why don't I buy the land, Colonel, and you keep Tillie.  My broker will find me one of Tillie's sisters."

     "I can't let you do that, ma'am."

     "Colonel, I've got more money than God.  My husband is just waiting for me to die to get his hands on it.  The more I spend now, the less he'll have then."

     During his thirty-year career as a Marine, the colonel was known by his aids for his shrewd assessment of people.  He said, "Let's go for a ride.  I'll show you the land."

     Deep in the woods, sitting on a log, the colonel encouraged Elena to tell him about her life.  When she told him about being ugly, he said, "How thick were your parents' glasses?"

     "They didn't wear glasses."

     "They needed them.  Tell me about Nelson."

     At the tale of the judge and his assistant in the elevator, the colonel laughed until tears ran down his cheeks.  He wiped his face with a huge white handkerchief.  "Ma'am, you tell a great story."

     "I do?"

     "I can picture Nelson with his wienie hanging out and Annabel with her pantyhose wrinkled around her ankles."

     For the first time, Elena's humiliation flowed away like cool water and she laughed until she cried into the colonel's handkerchief.  He patted her back.  As she dried her eyes, Elena said, "Can I come and visit Tillie from time to time?"

     "I insist you take her home with you, since you're going to buy the land."

     "It's better if I leave Tillie with you.  She might get sold like Bertha or disappear from my driveway like Barbara."

     No amount of persuasion could change the colonel's mind.  Marines are single-minded.  The colonel didn't like bullies and he had a plan.

     "We'll drive to Riverton.  On the way, you can learn to handle Tillie.  Driving a Humvee is not like driving an ordinary car.  They have camps to teach new owners how to drive their civilian Hummers."

     Home in Riverton, the colonel insisted that Elena leave Tillie in the driveway with the key in the ignition.  For three days, the colonel, equipped with an infrared camera and binoculars, watched the driveway from the woods at the edge of Elena's estate.

     At midnight on the third day, Nelson, dressed in black, crept from the house and slipped into the Humvee.  Several minutes passed before he was able to start it.

     He's so damned arrogant, thought the colonel.  A good Marine reads the manual.

     Nelson couldn't maneuver the turn needed to head out to the main road--just as the colonel had predicted.  He shifted into reverse--just as the colonel had predicted.

     "I'll stroll down the drive," said the colonel to the owl sitting in the tree above him, "and take a picture of the honorable judge sitting in Tillie in three feet of water.  Then I'll personally deliver the picture to the Riverton Gazette.  Hell, I'll even write the headline, 'Identity of Mystery Burglar Revealed.'"

     Tillie did sink through three feet of water--just as the colonel had predicted.  She kept sinking through three feet of golf balls, which the colonel had not predicted.  The Riverton Gazette headline read, "Judge Dies in Tragic Accident."

     With a few hundred hours of intensive care, Tillie was restored and able to look forward to twenty years of Founders' Day Parades with the colonel and his lady.

 END

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